I’m a terrible flier. A vodka drinking, sobbing, trembling, pill-popping wreck. So when I decided to sign up for a writing conference in Ohio, I didn’t think about how I would get there from Boston. In my mind, Ohio was the next state over and I was going to ride my bicycle. Or wave my daughter’s fairy wand and magically appear. After researching trains, planes, and automobiles, I decided to drive.
Things didn’t get off to a good start. I reserved a rental car, but they wouldn’t let me take it because of a silly thing like an expired license. Apparently I have been tooling around suburbia for a year and a half without a valid license. How did I let that happen? I don’t know; I just did. I have been home for six years with a kid, which translates to not knowing how to function in the real world anymore. I panic using a pedestrian crosswalk sign; how can I be trusted to renew a driver’s license?
After racing down to the DMV (driving illegally) and nearly failing the eye exam, I’m back in business. I drop the dog off at the pooch hotel, drop the kid off at Grandma’s, and start the first leg of my journey. The plan was to stop in New York City where my husband was staying for a work meeting and crash in his free room.
I arrive at 1 a.m. to find him eating million dollar snacks from the minibar while watching late-night TV on one of two giant decadent beds layered with 1200-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. So this is what he does on business trips while I’m home picking up dog shit and cooking macaroni and cheese. Annoyed and exhausted, I eye the empty bed…and he gives me the sex look. Oh for the love of God, I think. But then, if we don’t have sex in a fancy childless hotel room in the Big Apple our marriage is dead. And no one wants a dead marriage.
Three hours later, I take some cash out of his wallet while he’s sleeping and sneak out the door. Feeling a bit hooker-ish, I set off into the morning light. Nervously navigating city streets, my mind conjures up tragedy. What if my daughter falls out a window? What if she gets disoriented in her sleep and suffocates under the 5,000 pillows that I barricaded around the bed? What about the dog? Is she eating? Is she catching some sort of kennel disease? This is horrible. Why I am doing this to my family? Shit. Shit. Shit. This was so selfish of me. Trucks whip by on the freeway, and I consider that I could die on the road, leaving my daughter motherless. I should have taken a plane like a normal fucking person.
But then I hit the open Pennsylvania highways (ah, suburbia!) and the layers fall off one by one. The husband, the kid, the house, the dog. Poof! They are gone and I am free. I am lighter, like a snake that just molted. It scares the hell out of me how easy it is to leave it all behind.
I feel horribly guilty for a split second, and then stop to get a Diet Coke. Screw it, I get two. I wouldn’t be allowed to do this with my family in the car. They would get on my ass about how poisonous it is. I drive and I drink can after can of Diet Coke, stopping only to discover that rest stops are now called “text stops.” This makes me feel human again.
I get to the workshop and laugh and cry and cry and laugh for two days straight with fearless women there for the same reason: To be heard. And as I eat cake and buttered rolls and drink red wine and soda, I start to stand taller. I feel like I am home. Or in another home that I rarely visit.
As we prepared to go our separate ways, my new friends joked about re-entry. But I don’t work, so I just smile vaguely.
After 14 hours of driving like a trucker, I hit the Mass Pike. And I have an uncontrollable urge to turn around.
At home, everything looks different. The daffodils bloomed, my daughter’s foot grew, the yard is littered with toys, and the sink is piled with dishes. This makes me uncomfortable. I’m not desperately needed the way I thought that I was. Life goes on, with or without me. I feel a wave of loss hit me as I stand over the kitchen sink.
I turn on the faucet and get back to work.